One more post about clutter and then I’m on to other topics. Decluttering requires constant vigilance, but it is easy if we keep our decluttering muscles limber. Gail Blanke’s book Throw Out Fifty Things is a nice guide to room-by-room decluttering, and she of course includes lots of stories about other people and their clutter issues. This is fun reading for those of us who want to be assured that we aren’t as bad as the Collyer brothers—at least, not yet. Blanke has a good website and some helpful video on it, to encourage us to take the plunge and declutter.
Of course her advice is simplistic; it has to be. Most serious clutterers have very complicated mental justifications for their continued ownership of anything, and no book is long enough to present the opposing arguments for each and every retained possession. I read in a comments skein on Salon about someone whose mother insisted there was still edible food in her basement—which was flooded with three feet of water. Yuck.
The majority of us are not so far gone yet, so the issue is to keep from clogging up our surroundings. Here’s where we ought to honor our brains more than we do. Our memories of the people we have loved, the places we have been, and every other experience in our lives are in our minds. Souvenirs may jog some memories, but if we lost everything in a fire we would still have those memories. Some people do lose everything, but when they talk about what stings the most it is not piles of expired food or stacks of newspapers that they mourn. It is not receipts, broken toys, and old clothing. It is not even familiar furniture and beautiful accessories, though certainly people spare a sigh for them. It is family photos. Family photos are all we need. These days we can scan them all and put them on CD or DVD and toss extra copies into our safe deposit boxes at the bank, post them on the Internet, archive them on the net also, and of course e-mail them to family members. Once we have safeguarded those photos, we can breathe easy. The rest of what we currently own can join the choir invisible if need be.
I don’t know what you’re keeping, so I won’t tell you what to get rid of. I’ve started my own list of fifty things I have thrown out, courtesy of Gail Blanke’s encouragement. Like her, I am not counting multiples; if I toss a dozen pairs of socks, they count as one item. It may not seem quite fair, and it may not be entirely helpful to people who think that their issue is that they have hundreds of one particular item that need culling. Blanke’s concept is that we all have excess stuff in many categories (and rooms), and attaining the fifty-tossed goal means checking everything out, going from room to room and drawer to drawer if need be. She believes that we gather momentum as we go, and that’s why the goal of tossing fifty items is such a high number. I agree.
So, start your own list, and remember that “throwing out” means removing it from your household. You can recycle, pass on to friends, give to charity, sell, or whatever.
My one caveat about recycling/giving to charity/selling at a yard sale is that if the condition of the item is not good enough for you to use it today, it’s not good enough for anyone else, either. No one needs your stained, broken, and worn-out possessions, so do us all a favor and deposit them in the proper places: textile and metal recycling or the like, or the trash. Yes, the trash. Landfills already have machines that can extract everything of value that you may toss in the trash, so don’t worry too much about not being able to directly recycle every single thing you’re done with. As I’ve said before, the universe will take care of this; it’s not your responsibility.